It’s almost hard to believe another decade has come and gone, but as they say, such is life. So rather than moan and groan about getting older and the days passing us by, we want to take a few minutes to recognize all the remarkable films we’ve had the pleasure of watching over the past ten years, and there were a lot.
The previous decade introduced us to instant classics like The Dark Knight, Gladiator, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Still, if I may be so bold while composing our list of the must-see movies from 2010-2019, it became apparent that we may have just witnessed one of the most extraordinary 10-year spans in cinematic history.
With that in mind, from Guardians of the Galaxy to The Lighthouse, join us as we countdown 20 must-see movies of the 2010s. Enjoy!
20. Arrival (2016)
The most cerebral and best executed alien invasion movie since Stephen Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Arrival, made believers out of us again. After some genre disappointments in recent years, Arrival delivered a thinking man’s sci-fi movie that was exciting, involving, and intelligent all at once. And, like Close Encounters, the film succeeds by answering the question: How would we react if alien spacecraft showed up on Earth?
Arrival rightly focuses on the fact that our priority would be to try to communicate with the aliens and understand one another. Actors Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner are high in the movie, but director Denis Villeneuve deserves a lot of credit for his handling of the sci-fi source material. The up-and-coming director had quite the decade, helming several critically acclaimed films, most notably Blade Runner 2049 and Prisoners. In 2020, Villeneuve is set to direct Dune, a new two-part adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel of the same name.
19. The Martian (2015)
In a fantastic comeback effort for Ridley Scott after a string of disappointments, The Martian hit theaters back in 2015. Based on the 2011 novel written by Andy Weir, The Martian follow an astronaut named Mark Watney (Matt Damon) who is mistakenly presumed dead after a mission goes awry and is left behind on Mars. A Botanist by trade, Watney takes his fate into his own hands and makes his best MacGyver impression by fashioning a farm inside his small base of operations, utilizing Martian soil fertilized with human feces, water produced by extracting hydrogen from leftover rocket fuel, and potato rations intended for the crew.
Scott’s film does an excellent job of straddling the line between being hard sci-fi, action, and comedy with the audience feel invested in the lead character’s survival. The Martian received rave reviews and was nominated for Best Picture at the 2015 Academy Awards, as well as a Best Actor nomination for Matt Damon, who was fantastic in the role. Although he didn’t win an Oscar, Damon did walk away with the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.
18. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019)
Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is the director’s ninth film and generally considered his ode to the seventies. The star-studded cast includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, and Al Pacino. Set in Los Angeles during 1969, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood pays tribute to Hollywood’s golden age, following multiple storylines but primarily focusing on actor Rick Dalton (DiCaprio), a faded TV Western star and his best friend and longtime stunt double, Cliff Booth (Pitt), both struggling to find meaningful work in a Hollywood that appears to have outgrown them. Dalton also happens to be the neighbor of famous couple Sharon Tate (Robbie) and Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha).
Quentin Tarantino is one of the most beloved filmmakers in the world, so it should come as no surprise that his most recent film has already grossed $363 million worldwide. DiCaprio and Pitt were outstanding as usual, and it wouldn’t surprise us in the least if they both received Oscar nominations for the 92nd Academy Awards. If you’re a fan of Tarantino or just movies in general, we have a feeling you’ll enjoy this provocative and well-crafted film.
17. Logan (2017)
If you could only watch a single movie featuring Wolverine, Logan is, without a doubt, the best option. Set in 2029, in a time where the mutants are all but extinct, Logan encounters Laura, a young girl with the same powers as him — right down to the claws and healing ability, plus similar issues with rage and a general distrust of every other person she encounters.
Loosely based on the Old Man Logan comic story arc, Logan was the first X-Men film (other than Deadpool) to be released with an R rating. That meant more violence, more swearing, and a more adult examination of Logan’s attempts to deal with the horrors of his past, while at the same time trying to figure out how to keep Laura from walking down the same road. We’ve already proclaimed this movie as the best X-Men film that Fox has ever made, so it is a very worthy champion at the top of this list. Good luck to whichever actor might take over the role of Wolverine in the future. Whoever it is will have enormous shoes to fill.
16. Interstellar (2014)
As a filmmaker, Christopher Nolan always finds a way to rely on practical effects when possible to tell his stories, so it makes sense that his drive for realism would also extend to the science depicted in his films. Interstellar is a sci-fi epic in the traditional sense, in that it is profoundly concerned with space travel but rather than invent some contrivance for how his characters are able to get from point A to B faster than our current spacefaring technology would allow, Nolan worked closely with Kip Thorne, a professor of theoretical physics at the California Institute of Technology, to make sure the film’s depictions of things such as wormholes and time travel/relativity adhered as strictly as possible to accepted theories. There have been numerous published papers written about Interstellar’s science, and the film is already being used as a teaching tool in physics classrooms, even if the last third of the movie dives deep into speculative fiction territory.
15. John Wick (2014)
Chad Stahelski’s John Wick film is beloved by both critics and audiences alike and was a return to form for somewhat disgraced action star Keanu Reeves. The man who starred in seminal action films such as Point Break (1993) and The Matrix (1999), Reeves hadn’t done some real quality work in quite some time before bringing us one of the most breathtaking action flicks of the past decade seemingly out of the blue. John Wick, which also stars Willem Dafoe, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Ian McShane, and Adrianne Palicki, sees Reeves play the titular assassin who goes on a devastating revenge spree after his dog is killed in a home invasion (it was a parting gift from his dead wife, dammit!). Featuring impressive world-building that draws you in and some of the most incredible action choreography in recent memory, John Wick is the kind of film action buffs love to brag about seeing.
Following the outstanding box office success of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, it was announced that a fourth John Wick movie is scheduled to release on May 21, 2021.
14. The Irishman (2019)
Marvel criticism aside, Scorsese is unquestionably one of the greatest directors of all time, and his latest gangster drama only furthers his legacy. The Irishman follows Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), a veteran turned hitman who gets involved with mobster Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), his crime family, and the powerful Teamster Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). Based on Charles Brandt’s 2004 novel I Heard You Paint Houses, Scorsese’s latest film is so heartbreaking and compellingly entertaining that roughly three-hour runtime will still leave you wanting more.
After being unofficially retired for years, the one and only Joe Pesci’s agreed to return after reportedly being persuaded by both Scorsese and De Niro for several months. The three iconic actors above are joined by Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, Stephanie Kurtzuba, Jesse Plemons, and Harvey Keitel. The entire cast was incredible, but it was Pacino, Pesci, and most of all, De Niro, that stole the show.
The Irishman isn’t just one of the best movies of 2019, it’s one of the best of the decade, and despite it being made available on Netflix, we highly recommend seeing it in theatres. It’s just that good.
13. Inside Out (2015)
As much as we enjoyed Coco, when thinking about the most memorable animated movies of the decade, it was Inside Out that came to mind first. The animated comedy tells the heartwarming story of a young girl named Riley who’s life is turned upsidedown after her father receives a new job, forcing the family to move from Minnesota to San Francisco. As a result, Riley’s attitude begins to change. Still, with the help of her perfectly humanized and colorful emotions – Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) – Riley learns to adjust to her new life.
The theme of Inside Out couldn’t be more visible, but that doesn’t make the message any less significant. As adults, we understand change is just apart of life, but for a child still learning to understand what their emotions are telling them, it can be difficult to fathom how feeling sad, scared, and angry is normal. Inside Out does a beautiful job relaying this message, and for that reason, among many others, Inside Out became one of the most memorable and vital films of the decade.
12. High Life (2019)
Directed by French filmmaker Claire Denis, High Life is space drama that tells the story of a Monte (Robert Pattinson) and his daughter, the lone survivors of a dangerous deep space mission into the outer reaches of the galaxy. Before having the child, Monte was a member of a group of prisoners sent on a spaceship towards a black hole to collect scientific experiments. Still, when all the inmates on the ship mysteriously vanish, Monte is left to raise Willow, who he was forced to have against his will, on his own, and in complete isolation. As the story progresses, Monet and Willow must rely on each other to survive the black hole their ship is slowly drifting towards. The thought-provoking prison thriller truly is one of the most ambitious and entertaining movies of the year. Even though the film was initially released overseas in 2018, we decided to add it to the list because it didn’t receive a theatrical release in North America until April 2019.
For those unfamiliar with the movie, High Life is a gorgeously shot and thrilling story about love and survival, and while we understand it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, if you’re a fan of science fiction, we’d highly recommend it checking it out. We’d also like to point out that Robert Pattinson was tremendous in the film, delivering one of his most impressive performances of his career. Now more than ever, we’re convinced the talented English actor was the right choice to play Batman in Matt Reeves’ upcoming film.
11. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Guardians of the Galaxy offers definitive proof that Marvel can seemingly create a compelling movie out of any of its characters, no matter how obscure or silly they may at first seem. Focused on a team of C-list characters and set in the far reaches of space, Guardians could have easily been a disaster, but thanks to some superb casting and a hilarious script from director James Gunn and co-writer Nicole Perlman, it not only works, it’s one of the most entertaining superhero movies ever made.
Like most other Marvel movies, Guardians has a pretty forgettable villain, but it’s not as much of a glaring issue here given how exciting and diverse the main cast is. Chris Pratt gets the chance to show off his leading man qualities, and Zoe Saldana holds her own as the team’s only female character, but it’s the rest of the group that makes the biggest impression. Dave Bautista’s deadpanning Drax the Destroyer is a comic delight, while the duo of Rocket Raccoon and Groot may just be the best couple in the MCU.
10. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
This will forever go down as one of Leonardo DiCaprio’s most beautiful works of his career. The Wolf of Wall Street is a film that goes through the life, trials, and tribulations of millionaire stockbroker and con man, Jordan Belfort. DiCaprio plays Belfort, who is money and drug obsessed stockbroker who isn’t shy about flaunting his wealth. In some ways, this might be the most possessed and committed DiCaprio has been for a character. In this film, we see DiCaprio be more animated and have way more physicality than we have ever seen from him before. He perfectly captures Belfort’s charisma, savvy business sense, and unpredictability in a way that no other actor in Hollywood would be able to do.
Martin Scorsese’s biographical black comedy also helped propel the careers of several of DiCaprio’s lesser-known co-stars. At the time, actors like Margot Robbie and Jon Bernthal were still trying to make a name for themselves, but their performances in The Wolf of Wall Street put them on the map. Despite earning next to nothing for his role in the film, Jonah Hill might have been the most impressive of the bunch. His portrayal of Belfort’s business partner and friend, Donnie Azoff, showed he was more than just a comedic actor. Lastly, I’d be remiss not to mention Matthew McConaughey’s iconic money chat scene. I mean, does it get any better than that?
9. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Prior to the release of Denis Villeneuve’s incredible Blade Runner 2049, much of the concern surrounding it had more to do with its very existence rather than its potential to sell tickets. After all, Ridley Scott’s original film had slowly built a reputation as one of the greatest sci-fi films ever made since its 1982 release, so the thought of a sequel was considered blasphemy to some. When 2049 was finally released, it was hailed as a worthy follow-up and a grand artistic achievement in its own right.
Yet, even with all the praise heaped upon it, the film ended up as a money loser for Warner Bros, failing to break even and falling well short of the $100 million marks in its domestic haul. While Blade Runner 2049 generated a lot of hype with the film enthusiast crowd, what was overlooked by many is that the original Blade Runner was also a box office disaster and took years to break even thanks to numerous re-releases. Unfortunately, Blade Runner 2049’s failure only reinforced the fact that cerebral science fiction has historically been a box office nonstarter and something that studios shouldn’t invest heavily in.
Still, in terms of sequels that took forever and by all accounts shouldn’t exist in the first place, Blade Runner 2049 is easily one of the best there’s ever been. That has to count for something, right?
8. Joker (2019)
Joker is perhaps one of the most polarizing films in recent memory, dividing both fans and critics across the globe. Todd Phillips’ film tells the tragic story of Arthur Fleck, a failed comic who gradually goes mad after being abandoned and tormented by society his entire life. Whether or not the film is depicting the origin of the Joker or merely acting as the inspiration for the right Clown Prince of Crime isn’t overly significant. The film showed us the birth of Batman’s greatest nemesis in a way we’ve never seen before, and even if Fleck is just the blueprint, and the real Joker is taking notes,
The film was incredible, and Phillips deserves a great deal of praise, but it was Joaquin Phoenix’s unforgettable and Oscar-worthy performance that steered the ship. We’re used to seeing Phoenix go all out for roles, but the transformation he made was to play Fleck was incredible. From losing 50-60 pounds to developing one of the most haunting laughs we’ve ever heard, it’s a shame we won’t get to watch the further evolution of the character, that is unless Phillips changes his mind. We can only hope.
7. The Lighthouse (2019)
Directed by Robert Eggers, The Lighthouse is set on a desolate island during the 1980s, where a gnarly old sea dog named Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) and his new assistant Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) tend to a lighthouse for several weeks while attempting to maintain their sanity during a storm on the remote and mysterious island.
As you might expect, Dafoe was outstanding, delivering one of the best performances of his career, but it was Pattinson’s portrayal of Winslow that blew us away, and much like Owen Gleiberman of Variety said, Pattinson’s performance was “the most ferocious acting of [his] career.” I think it goes without saying, but Pattinson is quickly becoming one of the best and most versatile actors in Hollywood, so if you’re weary of his Batman casting, don’t be.
After universal acclaim, The Lighthouse has received thus far, and the critical and commercial success of 2015’s supernatural horror The Witch, we expect big things from Eggers in the future.
6. The Avengers (2012)
Other than the first Iron Man, 2012’s The Avengers is arguably Marvel’s most prestigious film to date, and fortunately, it’s also one of its best. Although the studio proved that it could make some pretty decent standalone films in the form of Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger prior to this film’s release, The Avengers was still an incredibly risky gamble. No one had really attempted a crossover event of this magnitude before, and The Avengers could have easily buckled under those kinds of expectations.
Hiring geek icon Joss Whedon to write and direct was a good sign that showed that Marvel was taking this whole thing very seriously, but even now, it’s hard to believe that it worked so well. The Avengers balances out the expected flashy superheroics with a plot that digs into each of its characters’ personalities and portrays them as a group of damaged misfits who really should not get along. Subsequent films in the franchise (and other movie franchises for that matter) have tried to replicate it. However, overall, this is still widely considered the gold standard of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Well, almost anyway.
5. Inception (2010)
This sci-fi heist film written, co-produced, and directed by Christopher Nolan stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a professional thief who steals information by entering a target’s subconscious. Things get interesting when he is offered the chance to have his criminal record expunged as payment for planting information into a target’s subconscious. The film features an excellent ensemble cast that includes Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, and Michael Caine.
Inception is known for its breathtaking and mind-bending dream sequences made all the more impressive by the fact that Nolan used little computer-generated imagery, opting for practical effects whenever possible. Inception received critical acclaim and was praised for Nolan’s screenplay, visual effects, and performances from the experienced cast. The film would go on to earn several Academy Awards and a worldwide box office gross of $828 million.
4. Spider-Man: The Spider-Verse (2018)
Although some might be upset to see an animated film on the list and ranked so high, we could care less because Sony Pictures’ Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was one of the most celebrated films of 2018 and might be the most rewatchable superhero movies ever made. The animation was stunning, the story was wonderfully written, and the voice acting couldn’t have been better. Shameik Moore did a tremendous job voicing Miles Morales and Jake Johnson’s take on an overweight Peter Parker provided a fresh new take that we didn’t know we needed. Furthermore, listening to Nicolas Cage’s voice, a darker alternate version of Spider-Man from Marvel’s Noir series, was a dream come true.
Into the Spider-Verse was so well received it won Best Animated Feature at Golden Globes, the Critics Choice Awards, and the Academy Awards, becoming the first non-Disney or Pixar movie since Rango (2011) to receive such an honor.
Luckily, Sony has already started working on a Spider-Verse sequel with Joaquim Dos Santos and David Callaham set to write and direct, as well as a spinoff called Spider-Women, which will focus heavily on the origins of Spider-Gwen, Jessica Drew/Spider-Women, and Cindy Moon/Silk.
3. Get Out (2017)
Okay, here’s the pitch: noted funnyman Jordan Peele (known from the Key & Peele sketch comedy show and for being a cast member of Mad TV for five seasons) wants to make a movie. Despite having zero experience as a film writer or director, Universal Pictures took a chance on Peele to make Get Out. But did we mention that the film wouldn’t be a comedy at all? Nope, for some reason, Peele wanted to make a horror movie. None of it made sense.
Fans and critics alike scoffed at the idea of Peele making the switch from comedy to horror. When the first teaser trailers for Get Out were finally released, nobody knew what to think. They didn’t give away any key plot points (which was excellent), but they also did very little to drive up interest (which was terrible). In the end, though, the movie turned out to be one of the most surprising pieces of cinema brilliance in the last few years.
Peele’s brilliant writing and directing produced a film, unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. His themes of institutional racism hit home even harder as the real world swirled with controversies of police violence and the Black Lives Matter movement. Not only that, Get Out brought in over $255 million at the box office against a $4.5 budget. Not too, shabby! The film was later nominated for four Academy Awards, taking home the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
2. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
While it’s more of a reboot than a proper sequel, the loose narrative chronology of the Mad Max franchise makes the entire question of what Fury Road’s relationship to the prior films is mainly irrelevant. What we do know is that it took director George Miller three decades to release another installment in his post-apocalyptic action series, and it was more than worth the wait. The fact that Fury Road even got made is a minor miracle, as the film went through absolute development hell. Initially going into pre-production in 1997, the film suffered numerous delays, including postponements in 2001 and 2003 on account of the September 11 terrorist attacks and the Iraq War, respectively.
Even when Fury Road finally started shooting in 2011, it would still take four years to complete, and it was hard at the time to resist writing the film off as a disaster that didn’t stand a chance of delivering on its promise. Of course, then Fury Road came out, blew everyone’s faces off, and was subsequently nominated for Best Picture on its way to being declared one of the greatest action films ever made by many critics. That being said. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait another 30 years for the next one.
1. Avengers: Infinity War/Endgame (2018 & 2019)
Whether you’re a fan or not, what Marvel accomplished over the past decade was so remarkably impressive we’ll likely never see it again. Between phase one and phase three (dubbed the “Infinity Saga”), only Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk were released before 2010, which means Marvel pumped out a ridiculous 21 films in ten years. To put that this in perspective, even at the height of its popularity, the Harry Potter film franchise only released seven, but I digress.
Individually, Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame would have made a list, but we felt, considering how closely related they are, that it only made sense to us to sandwich the two together. Even though we enjoyed Infinity War slightly more, Endgame represented the culmination of 23 films, and that in itself is a mindblowing achievement.
Throughout the two films, we witnessed the rise and fall of the Avengers, time travel, outstanding fight sequences, superb storytelling, and arguably the most polarizing onscreen movie villain since Darth Vader. For these reasons, among many others, Infinity War and Endgame rank among the most memorable and impactful movies of the decade.